‘Diversity’ in a gentrifying local shopping street in Amsterdam

by Emil van Eck, Iris Hagemans and Jan Rath

11 Feb 2020, 3:26 p.m.
Emil van Eck, Iris Hagemans and Jan Rath



Shopping streets are like micro-cosmoses for social scientists. Not only are they sites where the economic world meets the political and the social worlds, but they are also places where everyday practices interact with global developments. In our case study, Javastraat in Amsterdam, the local clientele, supply of products and ownership of stores have transformed considerably over the past decades. Global processes such as suburbanisation, migration, industrial decline and gentrification have left their marks on the retail landscape.


Initially, our research on the dynamics undergirding the changing shopping street did not start with a focus on ‘diversity’. Rather, the study was part of an international project that compared local shopping streets in global cities all over the world and resulted in the publication of the book ‘Global cities, Local Streets’. For the purpose of international comparison, the case studies in the book focused on similarities and differences in how transformations of the local shopping streets played out and were experienced by different stakeholders. In this international context, the Javastraat case stood out because of the e far-reaching interventions by the local government to promote the commercial gentrification of its shopping streets. From our findings, we found that the symbolic power of the local state to construct a specific discourse on diversity turned out to be of vital importance in this process. However, our results differ from the established literature on the symbolic politics of gentrification in two ways. A growing body of literature engages with the more symbolic effects of gentrification. While the symbolic remaking of neighbourhoods is often considered as a conscious and deliberate strategy, symbolic politics are described as inherently contested and a breeding ground for conflict and struggle. In Javastraat, however, we found that policymakers whose actions seemed at first sight to promote commercial gentrification were at the same time very critical of this process and genuinely committed to preventing possible negative consequences. Next to that, lower-class residents – potential losers of this process – seemed most supportive of them. To find an explanation for these unexpected results, we shifted our focus to the concept of ‘diversity’.


Diversity can be interpreted in different ways. While it is often used to refer to the different ethnic backgrounds of residents and entrepreneurs in Javastraat, it also relates to other characteristics such as income level and social class. The inclusive resonance of the word blurs a sharper view of the question what type of diversity is actually promoted. Despite the discursive celebration of ethnic diversity in Javastraat, we found that governmental actions supported the reading of the shopping street as being too uniform in terms of socio-economic status. Framed as promoting diversity, they form a symbolically loaded strategy to covertly manage ethnic and class transition by targeting the retail landscape. The use of the term diversity served to effectively de-politicise a process of state-led commercial gentrification, as well as the exclusionary effects that come with it.


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0042098019897008



You need to be logged in to make a comment. Please Login or Register

There are no comments on this resource.

Return to Category